Puerto Rican students missed 78 days of school on average after two hurricanes struck the island just over a year ago, and one in 10 students with special needs are still not receiving special education services, according to a study released Tuesday.
The Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, a research and advocacy group, also found that the biggest observable impact of Maria on children’s behavior at school was problems concentrating, followed by “low academic achievement” and “lack of interest in further study.”
When Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory just over a year ago, the storm fractured the island’s already-struggling school system. It damaged school buildings and accelerated a long-term drop in student enrollment, leading the island’s Department of Education to close hundreds of schools over the summer.
The institute’s study also found that in addition to the 10.3 percent of special needs students who still have not had their special education services restored,more than 84 percent of students in special education experienced an interruption in their education services after Maria. In addition, the report detailed the share of students who were having various troubles in school—the institute found 12.3 percent of children in the study were having trouble concentrating.
In response to the study, the Puerto Rico Department of Education shared the results of their own survey of students that among other things found that “the great majority of kids demonstrated psychological resiliency.” Only 7 percent of children, the department said, exhibited “clinically significant” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The department also detailed its effort to help students going through post-Maria trauma, including a mandate that there be one social worker for every 250 students.
“The [Puerto Rico Department of Education] is also using the trauma informed model to provide support to the students, including nurses to identify physiological trauma symptoms and refer to appropriate services,” the department stated.
The institute’s study relied on a survey, based on a representative sample of 705 households in Puerto Rico, and researched children in both public and private schools. The study found that low-income households suffered disproportionately after Maria compared to wealthier households.
The calculation that the average student missed 78 days of school refers to children ages 5-17. In addition, the study found that the average child in preschool lost 92 days at their educational institution.
The Youth Development Institute hosted a forum in Washington about its report on Tuesday. You can watch the forum here.
For a look at students in special education and how they’re coping after the storm, check out this Miami Herald story published earlier this week.
You can read the key findings in the Youth Development Institute report, which also looks at the health impacts on children and the material losses caused by Maria by different family income brackets.
Photo by Swikar Patel for Education Week